Branford Boys’ Soccer Sees Success in Unusual Season
Senior captain forward Ralph Ciarleglio and the Branford boys’ soccer squad posted a record of 4-4-1 in a shortened season. Ciarleglio was named All-SCC and All-State for the second year in a row. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain defender Matt Cordero led the Hornets through a challenging 2020 campaign that was bookended by quarantines due to COVID-19. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain midfielder Din Durmic was part of four-captain group that Head Coach Paul Hunter called “the spine” of the Branford boys’ soccer squad. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Dimitrios Gionteris and the Hornets were unable to play in the postseason in 2020, but still put together a solid year on the pitch. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior Rocky Verdesoto notched three assists for the Hornets during the 2020 fall season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The Branford boys’ soccer team was forced to both start and finish its 2020 season in quarantine. However, despite all the challenges brought forth by COVID-19, the Hornets still had a solid year that featured plenty of growth from both their veterans and underclassmen.
Branford began its preseason workouts in early September. The Hornets practiced for one hour a day in cohorts of 10 and weren’t able to scrimmage, so they instead worked on technical skills like passing and shooting.
On Sept. 21, Branford was allowed to do more teamwork and had plans to start intra-squad scrimmages. However, a few days before their first scheduled scrimmage on Sept. 28, a member of the Hornets tested positive for COVID-19, and the boys’ soccer program was shut down for two weeks. Branford’s first two regular-season games were also postponed.
While these setbacks were discouraging, Head Coach Paul Hunter liked the talent on his roster and felt optimistic that the Hornets would see success once they hit the pitch.
“We had a very good quality team. We had only lost three starters from the year before,” said Hunter. “We had eight starters returning, and we pretty much just had to figure out who the other three were going to be. Going into the season, I thought we were in good shape. We had a good group of kids, quality players, and I thought we could make a run in our division.”
The Hornets returned to the field for their first game on Oct. 8 —a 6-0 win over Career-Hillhouse. That victory marked a string of three-straight shutouts with the Hornets also defeating East Haven (5-0) and Wilbur Cross (3-0).
Branford wound up posting a record of 4-4-1 on the season. The Hornets’ fourth win came when they defeated Career-Hillhouse by a 4-2 score in what turned out to be their last game of the year.
The next day, Branford learned that a player from Career-Hillhouse had tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the cancellation of the Hornets’ last two regular-season games and preventing them from playing in the SCC Division B Tournament. While his team was unable to compete in the postseason, Coach Hunter said that Branford felt grateful to play its nine games and learned a valuable lesson to never take anything for granted.
“First and foremost, being grateful that you’re getting the opportunity to play,” Hunter said. “Under the circumstances, the CIAC could have shut everything down. Every game and every opportunity is a blessing and a privilege.”
Branford was led by four senior captains in goalie Alec Aceves-Acosta, defender Matt Cordero, midfielder Din Durmic, and forward Ralph Ciarleglio. Cordero and Durmic both posted three goals and one assist each this season. With each captain playing a different position, Coach Hunter referred to the group as “the spine” of the Hornets.
“They were great. They kept things light with the kids during practices and showed some real leadership on the field. It was the first time that we had four captains. They’re good players and really good kids,” said Hunter. “They have strong character and a strong demeanor. They were a steady influence in helping get things done. They contributed on both sides of the field, up and down the pitch.”
Aceves-Acosta and Ciarleglio were each named to the All-SCC Division B Team, while Ciarleglio also made All-State. This was the second year in a row that Ciarleglio, who had eight goals and five assists, earned All-SCC and All-State accolades. Aceves-Acosta and Ciarleglio had both seen varsity playing time since they were sophomores, and Coach Hunter said that they grew into strong soccer players during their tenure.
“They were both very good. Alec, as always, made some outstanding saves when we needed them. He’s very vocal talking to the defenders and getting them into position. He’s quick with his feet and did a real nice job in his two years starting,” Hunter said. “Ralph is a goal scorer. He’s very strong on the ball, can dribble past people, can find the pass. When he gets around the net, he knows how to finish.”
Branford’s senior class also included sweeper Rocky Verdesoto, who had three assists on the year; outside midfielder/outside back Julio Tozetto, who also had three assists; along with midfielders Mykael Zuniga-Cordova and Abhinav Baral. As Branford looks to the future, Coach Hunter feels hopeful that his returning players will be ready to fill the new roles on the Hornets.
“You’ve got to step up. We’ve got to fill six places at least,” said Hunter. “I only used two, three, four subs a game. There’s a whole group of kids who were on the periphery of starting this year who are going to have to put the time and effort into their work in the offseason. Hopefully, they can step up and join the five returning starters.”
As for the returning players, Coach Hunter is expecting junior central midfielder Sebastian Verdesoto, junior forward Dimitrios Gionteris, left back Dylan Sachs, and freshman right back Sebastian Zuniga-Cordova to reclaim their starting roles. Sebastian Verdesoto dished out four assists this season, while Gionteris scored six goals. Branford will also be returning juniors Peyton Moriarty and Cameron Meli, who split time at the outside midfielder position.
Looking back at a most unusual year, Coach Hunter hopes that the 2021 campaign resembles something much closer to what the Hornets are accustomed to.
“Hopefully, we will be past the situation we were in this past fall, move into 2021, and have the opportunity to have a full season,” Hunter said. “We have places that need to be filled. We’ll see what they can do over the next eight months. Hopefully, we’ll have a full season next year, and we can get back on the right track.”
The Branford boys’ soccer squad’s varsity roster included senior captains Alec Aceves-Acosta, Matt Cordeo, Din Durmic, and Ralph Ciarleglio; seniors Abhinav Baral, Julio Tozetto, Rocky Verdesoto, and Mykael Zuniga-Cordova; juniors Justin Acquarulo, Owen Calderwood, Dimitrios Gionteris, Cristofer Guaman, Cameron Meli, Peyton Moriarty, Dylan Sachs, Sebastian Verdesoto, and Zachary Zaffino; sophomores Paul Acevedo Henao, Anthony Klos, Ryder Kropiwnicki, and Harrison Smith; and freshman Sebastian Zuniga-Cordova and Conor Spaulding.